5 Things From My Week in Mexico That I Can’t Stop Thinking About

5 Things From My Week in Mexico That I Can’t Stop Thinking About

When you think about travelling to Mexico, and the best places to visit during your stay, a Hacienda in rural Merida offering tours on traditional rope production is probably not at the top of your list. But it should be.

If my eight-day journey through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo taught me anything (it taught me many things), it’s that even this one corner of the country is far more diverse than perhaps we give it credit for being. And that Mexico’s appeal as a tourist destination extends well beyond magical swim spots and margaritas.

For a week, I travelled from Playa del Carmen to Tulum as a guest of G Adventures on its first-ever Geluxe group tour; an experience designed to pair active travel with little moments of luxury. The tour maintains G Adventures’ commitment to authenticity, with day trips managed by local vendors and an ever-present respect for the history and traditions of the spaces you travel through. But, for anyone who is familiar with the G Adventures travel style, your hotel stays and meals are levelled up from simple and comfortable to a little more, well.. luxe.

Bookended by two of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, G Adventures’ Yucatán Peninsula: Mayan Ruins & Cenotes tour offers an easy introduction to the region, while still spotlighting places in Mexico that may not yet have taken over your Instagram or TikTok feeds. Those, invariably, are the areas that have since stayed with me.

Valladolid, one of Mexico’s ‘Pueblos Magicos’

best places to visit in mexico
Best places to visit: Valladolid, Mexico. Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

Our second stop on the tour was Yucatan’s Valladolid. This town is a significant one, our tour leader (or Chief Experience Officer) Lola advised us, not only because it is one of Mexico’s 132 Pueblos Magicos (towns officially selected by the tourism board because of their charm), but because of its role in Mexico’s history. The town, she explained, is both known for the Mayan-led Caste Wars, which began in 1848, and for being the home of “the first spark of the revolution” as well. It is a place that is recognised for having a powerful history of fighting against Colonialism and its impacts, which only adds to its richness as a destination today.

Valladolid’s colourful streets are lined with colonial-style buildings painted in bright shades of yellow, pink and blue, and in its centre sits a quaint plaza, which is overlooked by the Iglesia de San Servacio – a church first built in 1545, using stones from the Mayan temple that stood there before it.

As a Pueblo Magico, Valladolid receives funding from the Mexican tourism board to keep its appeal as a tourist destination, Lola explained to our group.

“So, [that includes] renovating older buildings; keeping the roads clean and the cities clean; painting [buildings] with certain colour to give a certain aesthetic and then giving money into celebrations. For example, in Valladolid, almost every evening, every day, there’s some kind of attraction to be seen.”

On the evening we spent in the town, local vendors sold snacks (like marquesitas, which are kind of like crepes with sweet fillings), and live music was playing in the plaza, all within walking distance from where we were staying, Le Muuch Hotel.

We only spent the one night here, but it felt like a place that really framed our time ahead in Mexico well.

For the love of rope: A visit to Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, Mexico

best places to visit in mexico

In Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, we were offered a glimpse into a period of great wealth in Mexico’s Yucatan region. The 300-hectare estate was built 45 minutes out of Mérida in 1858 by a man named Luis Augusto Peón.

“..he had about 16 haciendas,” General Manager Ivan Fuentes explained to us as he showed us just a small corner of the property.

“You know what’s crazy? He didn’t live in any of them. Because, you have 16, you can’t live in all of them, right? He lived in Mérida in his house in the city, but he had these plantations and then when he came to check out how the business is doing, he would stay here. But only for a day.”

Sotuta de Peón was built during a time of incredible prosperity for the Yucatan, as haciendas began to produce and export henequén or sisal — also known as ‘the green gold of Yucatan’. The fibre, our hotel tour guide Ivan Ramirez explained, was used to make products like Mezcal and rugs… but most importantly, ropes.

At this point in history, Mérida was known for being one of the cities with the most millionaires in the world. The luxurious nature of haciendas like Sotuta de Peón and the mansions of Mérida city reflect that pretty clearly.

But this time of wealth was short-lived, Ramirez explained, as the challenges of producing enough agave (each plant takes seven years to grow) and the birth of artificial fibres, among other things, brought on the end of the Yucatan’s green gold era.

Still, Sotuta de Peón is one of the very few working haciendas with the capability to still produce henequén fibres traditionally. So, we were able to see first-hand how green agave is broken down into fibres, combed to check for strength, and braided into ropes of varied thicknesses. Reader, when I tell you I was captivated by this, it’s no exaggeration.

Our stay at Sotuta de Peón stretched over three nights, the longest of our trip. It was highlighted in our itinerary as the tour’s OMG Stay (your Geluxe tour’s most memorable accommodation offering), and it wasn’t challenging to see why.

After our henequén tour, we jumped aboard a mule-pulled truk (no, not truck, truk – basically a wooden carriage pulled on tracks) and continued our education as a landscape dotted with agave plants passed us by. Here, I was struck by this quintessentially Mexican vista. I’ve been in awe of Mexico’s beaches and cenotes before, but this scene of warm, earthy tones and soft greens was new to me, and it was truly beautiful.

We were taken to see a traditional Mayan hut, but our final stop for the afternoon was the most impressive of all. The truk pulled up to one of the hacienda’s eight private cenotes, which has been fitted with a cabana and small bar out front. We spent the last hour of the day soaking in this ancient Mexican swimming hole, alone.

Best places to visit: Merida, Mexico. Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

“This is why this is your OMG Stay”, Samantha Couture, Director of Product for G Adventures, told the group.

And as I gazed around at the magical scene I found myself in, I completely understood exactly what she meant.

Sotuta de Peón offered a quiet escape into a side of the Yucatan I wasn’t at all familiar with, and it introduced me to a part of Mexico’s history I’d never known before — all before I’d even entered my private cabin, which is also very much worth a mention.

These were either mustard yellow or ochre red, each with a private plunge pool, hammocks for lounging and a king-sized bed. The best part, however, was waking in the morning to see lambs grazing outside your front door.

Vamos a comer: The best food I ate in Mexico

Best places to visit: Yucatan, Mexico. Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

We can hardly discuss a Mexican tour without discussing food, and I felt our Geluxe tour really delivered on this. Our guide, Lola, introduced us to many smaller, locally run restaurants that served the kinds of meals you miss once over.

Among the standouts was lunch with Yucatecan couple Beto and Claudia Noh Balam. The pair have been preparing buffet-style meals for groups for about the past four years after deciding they no longer wanted to work as cooks in the region’s resorts for little pay. I still dream about their 16-hour-cooked cochinita pibil, (a slow-cooked pork that’s traditional to the region), guacamole and chayote (a type of squash).

An afternoon in Celestún (a charming fishing village some compare to Tulum 20 years ago) brought me a prawn ceviche served by the beach that was perhaps the freshest I’ve ever eaten.

Similarly, a Mayan-style fish served after a tour through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere was jaw-droppingly good. Wrapped in banana leaves, topped with veggies and served with rice, this dish was simple, but the flavours were stunning.

Hacienda Sotuta de Peón also offered a particularly memorable food experience. Not only because of its use of local produce on-site but because they taught us exactly how they prepare cochinita pibil, from marinade through to underground cooking. Oh, and the daily aguas de jamaica (iced hibiscus tea) were delicious, too.


best places to visit in mexico
Best places to visit: Santa Barbara Cenotes, Mexico. Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

Sure, the beaches of Playa del Carmen and Tulum are lovely — the water of the Caribbean Sea is as inviting as you’ll get — but if you want an experience that’ll truly transport you; that offers an almost spiritual experience, there are better places.

One of my favourite days on this tour was one where we spent the morning cycling between the Santa Barbara Cenotes, learning more about these pools as we travelled along.

We left early in the morning so that when we arrived at the most impressive of Santa Barbara’s cenotes, Cenote Xooch’, we had it completely to ourselves. The reservoir is fully encased by limestone walls except for its circular mouth, which has a large ficus tree resting on its edge. Roots from the tree drape down into the aquamarine-blue water, and social flycatchers and mott mott birds sang out as we entered into the space.

Our guide that morning, Ricardo Vasquez, burned copal incense as a way to clear any negative energies and welcome us into the sacred area.

“They [the Maya] didn’t have just one god, but they had thirteen gods on the celestial level,” he told us.

“That’s why the number thirteen for the Maya, it’s a sacred number… So, thirteen gods up there and nine gods down there [the underworld],” he explained, pointing as he spoke.

Cenotes are significant here because they were seen as gateways to the underworld, where these nine gods resided.

“The nine lords of the underworld, they were [pok-ta-pok] ball players,” Vasquez continued.

“… They entertained themselves by playing the ball game. But they always liked to invite people from the terrestrial level [Earth] to come down to play with them, so they can play tricks on them, make them lose and cut [off] their heads, so they have more balls. They played with skulls.”

Similarly, Vasquez shared that in Mayan culture, when a person dies, their spirit travels down into the underworld, where they must play this same ball game with the nine gods.

“If they win, they climb the Ceiba tree to get to the celestial level,” he said.

Stretching out in the water of Cenote Xooch’, the smell of copal in the air and the large ficus tree reaching up to the heavens above, it was hard not to feel moved by it all.

The Geluxe tour itself

Best places to visit: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

Speaking on why G Adventures chose to introduce Geluxe tours to its portfolio in 2024, Samantha Couture explained that “people are wanting to explore further afield and go off the beaten track, still in a safe way, in a safe environment”.

“I think, [people are] ticking off those bucket list things that you thought maybe during the pandemic you’re never gonna get to do. …Living through the pandemic, you think, ‘Life is short, and I’m going to do these things, and maybe I’m solo… Now is the time.’”

She also shared how Geluxe-specific elements have been built into the tour to really amplify your unique experience. The OMG Stay (Hacienda Sotuta de Peón), which is intended to be an unforgettable accommodation inclusion, and your OMG Day, which offers you the choice between two unforgettable day trips, are the main examples of this.

For our OMG Day, we were given a choice between the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and kayaking in the Celestún Biosphere. I went for the latter and was surprised to learn that this tour included cruising past a large (but admittedly docile) crocodile. So, OMG meant something entirely different for me that day.

In any case, the intention of these tour additions is clear; they’re unique experiences that help travellers scratch that ‘off the beaten track’ itch that Couture mentioned from within the safety of a group environment.

If you’re looking for a luxurious tour where you won’t get your hands dirty, this, friend, is not the trip for you. Rather, my experience of the Geluxe tour in Mexico was one that afforded me the balance of ticking off a must-see tourist site one day (like Chichén Itzá) and exploring somewhere I’d never even heard of before, like the cyan-blue waters of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the next.

At the end of our days, we came home to premium hotels that invited a little R&R, and our meals also reflected that higher-end experience, but downtime was fairly limited. It was a trip that allowed me to explore further and learn more deeply than I expected from one week in Mexico, and those touches of luxury made it that much more comfortable to do so.

G Adventures Geluxe tours are available to book now. This author was invited to experience the Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula: Mayan Ruins & Cenotes tour as a guest of the company.

Lead Image Credit: Michael Heritage/G Adventures

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